Industrial Protocols & Standards: Connect NI Devices to Third-Party Equipment & Supervisory Systems


With native support for common industrial protocols such as PROFINET, OPC UA, and EtherCAT, NI embedded devices can connect to a variety of devices, equipment, and infrastructure. If you have an application that requires support for numerous protocols, NI embedded devices can act as industrial gateways that translate between any of the protocols below and even custom communication protocols through the FPGA.


Automotive Standards

In automotive and other transportation-related industries, several standards have been developed to ensure effective communication protocols, database formats, file formats, and so on. NI offers tools specifically designed to comply with these standards and significantly reduce development time. NI offers C Series modules for both vehicle communication buses and industrial communication buses.

Review some of the most common transportation-related standards, such as J1939, and how NI software tools address them.

CAN (Controller Area Network)

Controller Area Network (CAN)

Controller Area Network (CAN) includes two data link layer protocols and several physical layer options. CAN is a multimaster serial bus system with multidrop capabilities primarily used in the automotive industry.

Learn more about CAN.

CAN FD (Flexible Data-Rate)

The CAN with Flexible Data-Rate (CAN FD)

The CAN with Flexible Data-Rate (CAN FD) data link layer protocol was created to meet industry and consumer demands with the constantly growing amount of electronics and data communication within modern-day vehicles.

Learn more about CAN FD.



CANopen is the application layer that sits on top of the CAN physical layer often used for industrial automation applications. It supports up to 127 slave devices and is often used with Service Data Objects (SDOs) for reading data and Process Data Objects (PDOs) for configuration using an object dictionary.

Learn more about the details of the CANopen protocol.



DeviceNet is a more mature industrial protocol that the Open DeviceNet Vendors Association (ODVA) manages and is commonly found in Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley) programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Unlike EtherNet/IP, which is based on the Ethernet physical layer, DeviceNet is based on the CAN physical layer and increases strength and interconnectivity by specifying various parameters, such as the required cable length, connectors, and baud rates.

See PXI, PCI, and C Series DeviceNet interfaces offered by NI.

EPICS (Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System)

The Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System (EPICS) protocol

The Experimental Physics and Industrial Control System (EPICS) protocol is a set of open source software tools, libraries, and applications developed collaboratively and used worldwide to create distributed soft real-time control systems for scientific instruments such as particle accelerators, telescopes, and other large scientific experiments.

Read the “Introduction to EPICS” white paper, which guides you through the basics of working with this protocol and LabVIEW software.

EtherCAT (Ethernet for Control Automation Technology)

Ethernet for Control Automation Technology (EtherCAT)

Ethernet for Control Automation Technology (EtherCAT) is a communication protocol for deterministic Ethernet, widely known in Europe. Published as part of IEC 61158, this open standard implements a master and slave architecture daisy chained over standard Ethernet cabling, typically in a line topology. As a control bus, it focuses on deterministic, high-speed I/O for single-point applications, such as machine control and motion.

Learn how to use the NI-9144 CompactRIO Chassis to add I/O to NI hardware or third-party EtherCAT systems.

EtherNet/IP (Industrial Protocol)

EtherNet/IP is a real-time Ethernet protocol that ODVA manages and is commonly found in Rockwell Automation (Allen-Bradley) PLCs. It communicates over standard Ethernet using TCP/IP and UDP/IP and a master (scanner) and slave (adapter) network architecture.

Check out the NI-Industrial Communications for EtherNet/IP product page.

LIN (Local Interconnect Network)

The Local Interconnect Network (LIN) bus was developed to create a standard for low-cost, low-end multiplexed communication in automotive networks. LIN provides cost-efficient communication in applications that do not require the bandwidth and versatility of CAN.  

Explore a more in-depth overview of LIN.



Modbus is a common protocol used by countless devices for simple, reliable, and efficient communication across a variety of modern networks.

Read the Modbus Protocol Reference Guide for a comprehensive explanation of the protocol and details on how you can implement it through LabVIEW software along with commonly used high-level design patterns.

OPC UA (Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture)

OPC UA is the interoperability standard

OPC UA is the interoperability standard for the secure and reliable exchange of data in the industrial automation space and in other industries. It is platform independent and ensures the seamless flow of information among devices from multiple vendors.

Learn more about the OPC UA technology.

Power Utility Protocols: IEC 61850, IEC 60870-5, and DNP3

The IEC 61850 standard is a set of open protocols based on Ethernet communications commonly used in electrical utilities. SCADA systems use IEC 61850 to communicate between a master station, remote terminal units (RTUs), and intelligent electronic devices (IEDs). Real-time targets may be programmed as IEC 61850 outstation devices with advanced functionality such as power quality monitoring, phasor measurement, and other analysis related to the smart grid. The DNP3 protocol has been historically used in these types of applications. It is a simpler protocol more like Modbus, and engineers are replacing it with IEC 61850 and, to a lesser extent, IEC 60870-5.

Learn how engineers are using NI in smart grid applications.

PROFIBUS (Process Field Bus)


PROFIBUS was initially created by Siemens and is now managed by PROFIBUS International. The physical layer for PROFIBUS DP is based on RS485, and this sets the standards for the number of slaves, which can be as many as 124.

See an overview of the PROFIBUS protocol.


Serial covers RS232, RS485, and RS422. Often used for instrument control, RS232 can cover distances up to 50 ft. RS422 implements differential communication, which provides longer communication distances and greater noise immunity. RS485 is a superset of RS422 that increases the number of slave devices from 10 to 32.  

See all the serial interfaces for embedded systems

TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol)

The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is a reliable point-to-point communication protocol; data is delivered in an ordered, lossless manner. It is a connection-based protocol, which means that a connection between the client and the server must be established before transferring data.  

Read the “Basic TCP/IP Communication in LabVIEW” white paper to get started.

UDP (User Datagram Protocol)

The User Datagram Protocol (UDP) is a transport layer protocol used in low-latency and loss-tolerating connections between devices or applications.

Learn more about the use of the protocol in the “UDP Communication in LabVIEW” tutorial.

Next Steps